Explore Art/Enjoy Music and the Outdoors at Nick Engelbert’s Grandview Plein Air Event on August 16

August 14, 2015

Wisconsin is rich with roadside art, and many a weekend can be spent tracking down hard-to-find treasures hidden in rural places that seem almost lost. In the next few weeks some of these sites will entice you with great family outdoor activities. It’s a good time to fire up the jalopy and head to the hinterlands.

On August 16th you can enjoy food and refreshments, music, tours, and art making at Nick Engelbert’s Grandview Plein Air Event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free! Grandview is roughly equidistant between New Glarus and Mineral Point just outside Hollandale in Highway 39, only 45 minutes from Madison.

Take a liking to this Viking at Grandview, just west of Hollandale in Iowa County

Take a liking to this Viking at Grandview, just west of Hollandale in Iowa County

Art-making activities will include plein air (outdoor) painting inspired by Engelbert’s sculptures. Art instruction, materials and easels will be available for beginners and young folks. Experienced artists can choose from scores of interesting objects and perspectives to create something unique. Cash prizes will be awarded in both amateur and professional categories.

You don’t need to be an artist to enjoy the day. There will be plenty of time to tour the grounds and see sculptures ranging from historical figures to fairy tale and mythological depictions. Bring a lawn chair and your favorite beverage and enjoy live music from 1 pm – 4 pm. Snacks will be provided, too, and the kids will love the unique setting.

Nick Engelbert’s Grandview Plein Air Event is part of a series of five Wandering Wisconsin Roadside Art Experiences being held during August and September. The events include art making inspired by each site’s creators, entertainment, refreshments, and exploring some of the grandest, most astonishing, and original visions in American art. All activities are free and all ages are welcome. For more information about these events, call (920) 694-4534 or email wanderingwisconsin@jmkac.org. If you have any questions about the Grandview event email marilynr@mhtc.net or call 608-574-7169.

Soon the 2015 Wandering Wisconsin Outdoor art festivities will move to other venues. Come back soon to Portal Wisconsin to get more information.

Even if you cannot make the events, set some time aside to visit all the Wandering Wisconsin sites to experience a unique Wisconsin perspective. With each amazing site comes a great ride in the Wisconsin countryside.

Wandering Wisconsin is a consortium of eight art environments located throughout Wisconsin. The Roadside Art Experience is funded by Kohler Foundation, Inc.

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale


Farewell To A Landmark

June 20, 2012

Building 200 in early 1945, with a giant flag on a towering flagpole in the front lot and banners marking awards for production flying nearby.

As far as historical landmarks go, Building 200 is among America’s homeliest. It’s a two-story barracks-like structure built for function with no attention paid to form beyond the basics of level, plumb and square. Anyone who has spent time on a military base in the years since World War II has seen buildings like it.

For exactly seventy years this month, Building 200 has stood off Highway 12 on the Sauk Prairie just down from the Barabo Hills. It was, until a couple of months ago, the headquarters of the United States Army at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant. Here the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army Ordnance Department supervised the work of the various civilian contractors who constructed and operated the plant since 1942.

Homely it is. Two stories of narrow office corridors in the shape of a rectangle with a cross corridor creating two open courtyards. Not that the weed-choked courtyards are decorative. They are merely a means to admit natural light to the inner row of offices. The exterior is a catalog of historical siding. Wooden clapboards in the 1940s covered by asbestoes sheathing in the 1950s covered by vinyl in the 2000s. The framing is entirely wood post and beam, instead of iron or steel, precious materials reserved for more strategically important purposes. Instead tthe Army used top-grade Pacific Coast fir, old growth lumber, hard to find today.

World War II was fought out of Building 200, so was the Korean conflict. From 1965 to 1975, the managers in Building 200 oversaw the production of propellant for the ammo discharged by the rifles, machine guns, artillery, and rockets fired by American troops at war in Southeast Asia. Pick a scene of combat from a Vietnam war movie, the only way most of us experienced that war. It’s more likely than not that, in the real war the movie imitates, the ammo fired in that scene was manufactured at Badger.

Just as importantly, Badger and Building 200 were part of the Cold War arsenal of the United States. When the communist governments in eastern Europe collapsed, when the Soviet Union dissolved, when China moved away from strict Maoism to whatever philosophy governs it today, they didn’t throw a party in Building 200, but they could have. Just as Badger was part of the victory in the relatively short World War II, it was part of the decades long grinding down of communism afterwards.

As a result, Badger worked itself out of its job. It was decommissioned in 1998 and Building 200 became headquarters for a massive effort to decontaminate over 5,000 acres of infrastructure, soil, groundwater and surface water in nearby Lake Wisconsin.

Much of that work is completed. The Army and its contractors no longer need the 66,000 square feet of office space in Building 200. The property itself has been transferred to the Wisconsin DNR and will become part of the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area. Efforts by preservationists to prevent the demolition of Building 200 and convert it to a visitor center/museum have attracted little support.

Demolition work has already begun. Seventy years ago, when Building 200 was first ready for occupancy, over 8,000 workers were swarming over the grounds beyond to complete the over 900 structures necessary to begin production as scheduled in January 1943.

Today, a handful of equipment operators will pull Building 200 down. It’s not an architectural masterpiece, about as far from a Calatrava or a Lloyd Wright as a building could be.

Let’s call it a landmark to transience, a reminder that the greatest of human achievements, like the humblest, are temporary.


Snapshots of Heritage

May 31, 2012

750 Seventh Street

Late last year, I heard the first murmurings of a substantial dry plate glass negative collection at the Sauk Prairie Area Historical Society, the majority of which had not yet been scanned, much less identified, nor entered into the museum’s records. Around that same time, Jody Kapp, director of development at SPAHS, procured a grant through Heritage Credit Union that enabled the development of an educational photographic program for elementary school children as well as the purchase of a new scanner, with which the century-old negatives could be digitally preserved.

Ochsner bird collection at Tripp Museum in Prairie du Sac

To kick off the program, half a dozen groups of second and fifth graders visited Tripp Museum this spring to learn about the history of photography. They were first introduced to several types of vintage photo processes and taught about composition. Afterwards, everyone had an opportunity to compose drawings, using what they had learned in the presentation, and to design a cyanotype, which developed outdoors and was then taken inside for a quick bath. These are now on display.

Children (and adults!) who visit this summer are invited to use one of the museum’s digital cameras to take photos, which can then be emailed to the photographer and may be posted to the historical society’s Facebook page. “Our goal is to not only help people understand the importance of photography in capturing the stories of a people,” says Jody, “but also to interest them in learning how to make their own well-thought-out compositions so they too can help preserve the people, places, and things that are important to them through photography.”

School kids working on cyanotype creations

In late March, I began working with fellow society members and volunteer archivists, Jack Berndt and Verlyn Mueller, helping to scan, identify, and catalog the vast glass negative collection. We have thus far archived 132 images and believe that there are approximately 300+ left. Some of the photos had been previously printed, and it was a great pleasure to realize that the society has the originals, while the majority have not really seen the light of day in more than a century. Farm scenes, newly-built houses, social venues, and landscape portraits are common themes, and it was certainly expected that those sorts of things would be uncovered. Less expected are what appears to be an 1899 trip to New Orleans, photos of photos, and touching memorials for deceased community members.

Many of these images have been printed and enlarged, and they are on display now through November 17 in the Mueller Gallery on the first floor. The entire collection, as it is unveiled, will be presented as a slideshow that you can see when visiting. The public is invited to help identify the people, places, and events depicted in the images. In conjunction with this exhibition, there are a variety of vintage cameras and photo-related equipment on display, such as an old US Army projector, several magic lanterns, varied types of photography, and much more.

Verlyn inspecting a dry plate glass negative

Tripp Museum is located at 565 Water Street in Prairie du Sac and generally open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 am – 1 pm, or throughout the week by appointment. Call 608.644.8444 or email (spahs@frontier.com) for more information. While there, be sure to check out the Bradford Bison [Bison Occidentalis], on long-term loan from the University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum, which was discovered locally by then seven-year-old Joshua Bradford in 2005, and returned to SPAHS this year. There are also tickets available for the Bradford Bison Quilt Raffle, drawing to be held at the “Brunch with a Bison” community party on Sunday, July 1, 2012.

Ed Steuber gives a driving lesson near Prairie du Sac[Edna Graff and Edwin Steuber, Stella Carpenter and Leta Bernhard Stelter]

Jodi Anderson


Building Memory: Milwaukee’s War Memorial

May 25, 2012

When the Milwaukee Art Museum recently announced that funds would be dedicated to restoring the War Memorial building, I had reason to smile.

I smiled because it is a good building that will get some well-deserved attention. The last time I visited the museum, the depredations of time were evident on the reinforced concrete wings that establish its strong presence overlooking Lake Michigan. That kind of wear is inevitable in a building that is now 55 years old. But it must be corrected.

War Memorial

The War Memorial when built in 1957.

Designed by the modernist master Eero Saarinen, the building was created as a memorial to those who had died in World War II and the Korean War. It was also the new home for the Milwaukee Art Center, created from the merged Milwaukee Art Institute and Layton Art Gallery.

The original functions of the building were clearly delineated with the War Memorial above and the art museum below. Part of what makes this a good design is that Saarinen kept the view to the lake open between the stone-covered base and the raised wings which cantilever in four directions. Good as the design is, it has been overshadowed by the spectacular 2001 addition designed by Santiago Calatrava.

The smile I had upon reading the blog post also came from deep memories of the building. When I grew up in the Milwaukee suburbs, I enjoyed visits to the city and especially the lakefront. My first visit to an art museum was in this building, I had dreams of becoming an architect and the War Memorial was unlike any other building I saw. It was modern and bold. It made a big impression.

As a budding architect, I spent many hours creating my own buildings using anything at hand—wooden blocks, Scrabble tiles, game boards, paper towel tubes—as well as building toys. I used one of those commercial building sets to construct my take on the War Memorial with its dramatic cantilevers. After all these years, I was able to locate a photo of my efforts.Model Building

Looking at my model now, I can see that, like a real building, it accepts the limitations of the materials at hand. It’s the work of a boy more inclined to imitation than originality—a flawed, but sincere attempt to explore an idea.

Saarinen’s War Memorial planted a seed in me that has germinated in unexpected and satisfying ways. While I never became an architect, I’ve never lost my interest in buildings, their designs, their histories and their place in our communities.

–Michael Bridgeman

Note: The Journal-Sentinel’s Mary Louse Schumacher has written a blog post about the War Memorial Building, its history and its importance to Milwaukee.

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Wright’s Style

November 30, 2011

In early November the Lake Geneva Regional News reported that the local library had installed two original windows from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lake Geneva Hotel. The setting is fitting since the library, which opened in 1954, was designed by Wright apprentice James Dresser, the subject of a post to this blog earlier this year.

The hotel in Lake Geneva was one of only a handful of Wright hotels that was constructed.

An early image of the Lake Geneva Hotel (Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID 36456)

In this instance, the commission came in 1911 from Arthur Richards and John Williams. Richards had also engaged Wright to design a hotel for Madison (not built) and would, within a few years, launch his American System Built House project with Wright. A number of these structures still stand, including a row of six houses and duplexes on the south side of Milwaukee.

The Lake Geneva Hotel opened in 1912 and financial problems soon arose. It held on for nearly 60 years through various owners and at least one name change, to the Hotel Geneva, before being demolished in 1970.

In the world of Wright, however, that is rarely the end of the story.

A night light using the window design from the Lake Geneva Hotel

Even Wright’s demolished work lives on through merchandising. So while the Lake Geneva Library is fortunate to have original windows from the hotel, you can buy the window design on a table clock, night light, magazine rack or doormat.

The commodification of Wright and his work has been going on for several decades and I confess to having some Wright tchotchkes of my own. The upsides are exposing a wider audience to Wright’s work and generating income, through licensing, for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The downside is reducing Wright to a mere stylist. He is so much more and we are fortunate to have a rich array of his  buildings in Wisconsin to help remind us.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin Cottage

October 13, 2011

Recently I spent a weekend at the Seth Peterson Cottage, a Frank Lloyd Wright house near Lake Delton. It was my second overnight visit, my first having been in 1993, about a year after the cottage was opened for private rentals and regular public tours.

The wall of windows faces southwest.

The setting is delightful: a wooded hill overlooking Mirror Lake. Indeed, the small house is now within Mirror Lake State Park and maintained and operated by an arrangement between the non-profit Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy and the Department of Natural Resources.

Had it not been for the Conservancy, and particularly Audrey Laatsch, the cottage might have been lost. When she came upon the house in 1988, it had been unoccupied for years and suffered serious deterioration.

Seth Peterson Cottage is small, measuring 880 square feet. The plan is simple, with a large open space that embraces living and dining areas wrapped around a large fireplace. A shed roof opens to an expanse of windows facing southwest with a patio at 90 degrees that looks northwest. It is from the west corner of the house that one gets the best view of the lake below.

The corner of the patio overlooks Mirror Lake below.

There is a small and quite workable kitchen and a single bedroom under a low, flat roof at the rear of the house.

Designed by Wright in 1958, the cottage was unfinished when the young client, Seth Peterson, took his own life in 1960. Wright had died a year earlier at age 91. After sitting empty for two years, the cottage was purchased by Lillian Pritchard for her son and finished pretty much as designed. Only a few years later, in 1966, the state purchased the house and surrounding land for $38,400 to become part of the new park. With no plans for the house, it was boarded up and languished. More than 20 years later, Laatsch and the Conservancy rehabilitated the house for public use.

Making Seth Peterson Cottage available for overnight stays was a bold idea when inaugurated in 1992. It would not be a house museum, but a residence, even if transitory, as intended by client and architect. It was the first Wright house to offer such an opportunity. Today, there are eleven Wright sites where guests can spend the night, including two others in Wisconsin.

It’s a rare pleasure to spend time in a Wright house. I’ve visited plenty of Wright buildings over the years, usually in groups that are timed, managed and directed. For our weekend at the Seth Peterson Cottage, I and my friends had the priceless benefit of unhurried time. We could sit and look, read or relax. We could take in the house and its site from many angles, inside and out. We could enjoy the changing light through the day, the sun filtered by trees with yellowing leaves in early fall.

The cottage has a large fireplace, a common feature of Wright's interiors.

To be sure, spending the weekend is an extravagance and takes a bit of planning since the cottage books years in advance. Yet I could think of no better way to mark a milestone birthday. And the real luxury is that I had the time to enjoy the experience.

Note: The Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy offers monthly guided tours of the house and other events open to the public.

–Michael Bridgeman

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Wright in Wisconsin and the World

May 3, 2011

In less than two weeks, an exhibition about Wisconsin’s most important architect will come to a close. Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century at the Milwaukee Art Museum and continues through May 15.

I visited a few weeks ago and think the show is worth seeing, even though I wasn’t convinced that the theme announced by the title was clearly or effectively carried through the 150 objects that make up the

Jacobs 1

The first Jacobs house in Madison

show. A large model of Wright’s Broadacre City (1932-1958) appears near the beginning of the show and is fascinating to observe as object and concept.

Since the exhibition relies heavily on plans and drawings, that means a lot of close-up viewing that, combined with the labels, can be tough on the eyes. Nonetheless, many of the illustrations are glorious and the material on the Milwaukee projects is especially good. Other Wisconsin work, including the first house for Herbert and Katharine Jacobs in Madison (above) is also in the show.

I’ve seen a lot of Wright material in person and in exhibitions. My visit to Milwaukee was well worth the time.

–Michael Bridgeman

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